Council sets rules for SH pot facilities

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council Thursday voted to prohibit marijuana facilities within 100 feet of residential zones.

The decision followed a discussion and the first two readings of an ordinance during its regular meeting Jan. 10 and a third reading Thursday.

During the Jan. 10 meeting, the council held a public hearing, made its decisions about regulations included in the ordinance.

Following the third reading, the council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance. Present were Lisa Gourley, James Goble, Ryan Underwood, Mayor Greg Mahler, Dave Trask and Diane Gerson.

The council had considered higher levels of restrictions, up to 300 feet, but settled on the 100-foot buffer zone.

The majority of the Sweet Home Planning Commission had recommended a 50-foot buffer zone for residential property Jan. 9.

The initial proposal would have prohibited marijuana facilities within 300 feet of residential zones, 1,000 feet of parks and 1,000 feet of each other.

Existing buffer zones established by the state include 1,000 feet from schools and 1,000 feet from medical marijuana dispensaries.

The council retained provisions to allow marijuana facilities in recreation commercial zones, which include former mill and quarry property along the north side of Sweet Home, and to require facilities to obtain a conditional use permit, which requires Planning Commission review and approval.

After revising the proposed ordinance, the council held the first and second readings of the ordinance. Following a third reading Thursday, the council can vote whether to adopt the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance includes an expediency clause, which means it took effect following the council’s approval and mayor’s signature last week.

The council included the expediency clause and held all three readings last week in order to have the rules in place before businesses begin submitting applications to establish marijuana facilities.

The size of the restrictions in the proposed ordinance were based on the largest restrictions the council had discussed previously, said Carol Lewis, the city’s acting planner. They were included at that level so they could be considered. After notification of property owners in the affected zones, commercial and industrial, the council would be unable to increase the level of restriction.

The council can regulate where marijuana facilities are permitted, City Attorney Robert Snyder told the council, but the restrictions must allow a “reasonable” number of alternatives where they could open.

“You can’t zone it out,” Snyder said. “You can’t buffer it out.”

Reasons for implementing buffer zones, Snyder said, are to protect minors and the places they frequent as well as residents’ use and enjoyment of their property from nuisances, such as odor. The regulations also may preserve property values and protect other property owners from hazards, noting the explosion of a marijuana extraction facility in Astoria last year. Two employees were injured in that explosion.

Based on news reports, Snyder said that more than 30 percent of odor complaints in Denver are about marijuana.

Advocates of legal marijuana production and sales attended and testified at the Jan. 10 meeting. No opponents of legal marijuana testified.

Cascadia resident Janet Quinn, who has owned commercial property in Sweet Home, asked the council what buffer zones are around businesses selling alcohol and cigarettes.

These buffers will affect the growth of business and revenue in Sweet Home, said Dustin Pomeroy, owner of the Going Green medical marijuana dispensary, 925 Main St. “Buffers lessen these opportunities, which is not what the people voted for.”

Pomeroy intends to apply for a license to sell recreational marijuana through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and the original proposed parks buffer would have prevented it based on the location of the small park at the intersection of 12th and Nandina streets.

While she is not looking to open a marijuana business, Theresa Brown owns two properties in the Foster area, including the Woods Roadhouse. She expressed concerns about buffers, particularly the parks buffer, which stretches along a trail from Linn County’s RV park and marina to Shea Point.

“We have a need for business in Oregon,” Brown told the council. This should be handled like any other business.

“Don’t think about guys lying in the streets or smoking in the park,” Brown said. These rules won’t stop that, and the community is going to have odor issues, regardless.

“Consider any good clean business,” Quinn said.

She recalled moving to Linn County in 1976. She said she was told at the time that the obnoxious odors from the mills were the smell of money, and she was told that if she didn’t like it, should should move back to Lane County.

“Let’s just be consistent here,” Quinn said, noting that the state issues license plates that promote an alcoholic beverage and pronounce Oregon “Wine Country.”

Councilor Diane Gerson said she favored no more buffers than the city places on any other business.

Buffers will bring lawsuits, she said. “We need to be very, very careful how we restrict it.”

“I’m not sure I want a marijuana dispensary next to my home for any reason,” said Councilor Dave Trask. He questions the “great windfall” in tax revenue and economic development that marijuana proponents keep mentioning.

“It just puts another notch in the way people view Sweet Home,” Trask said. “We have a bad enough reputation as it is.”

A buffer is a simple thing to do and necessary to avoid having a facility open next to the duplexes near McDonald’s, for example, he said.

“We could have a lawsuit,” Trask said, and the city will have to deal with it if it happens.

Councilor James Goble said he favored no buffers anywhere except around residential zones, more in the 100-foot range as opposed to 300 feet.

A 300-foot buffer would eliminate nearly all of Sweet Home, especially when considered with a parks buffer, leaving a handful of properties available on Main Street east of 18th Avenue.

In cases where the edge of a buffer crosses a property, Lewis told the council, OLCC will approve applications where property owners show the business will use the property outside of the buffer zone.

Goble said the Planning Commission worked through all of this Monday, and he must support its recommendations.

“I know that’s tough,” he said. “I don’t want to be in the park and smell it.”

But that’s taken care of, he said. The law already prohibits smoking marijuana in the parks.

He doesn’t want to waste time in court, when it’s clear looking at a map, how few properties would be available under the proposed ordinance.

“I think we’re cinching things up so much we’re asking for a problem,” Goble said.

The council took a series of votes on various provisions in the ordinance, including the buffer zones. Councilors voted 6-0 to remove the proposed buffers from around the parks and marijuana facilities. It voted 5-1, with Gerson voting no, to establish a 100-foot buffer from residential zones.

It also approved recreation commercial zoning for marijuana facilities. Those would be developed as part of a planned development for the land zoned recreation commercial, all of which is part of an existing master plan. The council also agreed that marijuana facilities should be a conditional use.

Those decisions set the stage for Thursday’s third reading and final vote.

“I’m going to check and see how it impacts my property,” Brown said. If it does, she said, she plans to appeal the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals, but she supported the council’s decision to reduce the level of restriction.

“I think it’s a good thing for Sweet Home that logic prevailed as opposed to prejudice,” Brown said.

Pomeroy said the only ordinance that affects him was the parks restrictions, but he is glad to see the level of restrictions reduced.

The Planning Commission did a good job with this, said Sweet Home resident Theresa Howard, and the council took the Planning Commission recommendations to heart.

“It was what the voters wanted,” said Kitt Pomeroy, brother of Dustin Pomeroy. “Giving them that little bit of buffer is good for them, and it opens up a lot more options.”